Thursday, February 7, 2008

New Music: Devotion

It seems funny that a band called Beach House would release an album in the winter. That is, until you hear their music. Much like its February release date, Devotion is bleak, cold, and beautiful. Like the coldest of seasons, it’s Beach House’s desolation that makes it so pretty.

Similar to the band’s self-titled debut, Devotion consists of simple songs and instrumentation. The sounds here don’t vary from their established keyboard/organ/guitar/drum machine template. Victoria Legrand’s voice, compared to Nico by All Music Guide, shines through the barren echoes of the accompanying music, telling stories of despair. Beach House is certainly not summer music.

It’s not bad, either. “You Came to Me” builds up to a mysterious climax as Legrand sings “You came to my in my dreams.” The music suggests those weren’t daydreams. “Gila” and “Turtle Island,” like most of the other songs on Devotion, are beautifully sad. The album truly reaches its peak with the “Holy Dances,” “All The Years,” “Heart Of Chambers” trio. The three songs conjoin with each other and share the same nearly sing-song sensibility – one not found on their debut.

The main weakness of this album is that it’s strongest in the middle. It doesn’t start flat or fizzle out, but its moments of brilliance and beauty are found mostly mid-way through. That’s not to say the end is entirely devoid of “moments,” though. “Astronaut” ends with a catchy background vocal riff that appears at just the right time in the tune. “D.A.R.L.I.N.G.” takes elements of surf music and seems to, well, sedate them – staccato organ riffs, buzzing guitars, and surf beats are all devoid of all but despair here. In fact this song, like most of the album, sounds like it came from a haunted house – in a good way, of course.

With Devotion, Beach House has created one of the better albums of 2008 so far. It’s impossibly pretty, yet bleak, mood calls to mind other beautifully sad releases…

Calla – Scavengers
Beck – Sea Change
The Durutti Coumn – Someone Else’s Party
The Clientele – Strange Geometry

Devotion and these other releases are worth checking out on a rainy, or snowy, day.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Loveless or Loving?

It's been 2008 for a little while and nothing has been released (or, uh, leaked) that holds a candle to the best of '07. That's not so much a knock on this year, as it is a compliment to its predecessor. But, nonetheless, there isn't a lot to grab my ears. Sure Destroyer's Trouble In Dreams (March 18) is pretty good, as is (Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox) Atlas Sound's Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (Feb. 19 - soon!). Yes, there are other decent releases - Vampire Weekend's self-titled is pretty adorable - but it's more the promise of things to come that has me salivating... not so much the stuff I've heard so far.

My Bloody Valentine, like, one of my favorite bands, say they've got something new for us to hear. It's about time. Sixteen years is a long while in-between releases, especially at this band's caliber. Though their body of work consists of a modest 4.1 hours, according to iTunes, MBV's back-catalog is pretty stunning. Yeah, Loveless and Isn't Anything were great, but the Jesus and Mary Chain-aping Ecstasy and Wine is just as essential. You can hear its influence all over new favorites like last year's Liars self-titled album and this year's Distortion by The Magnetic Fields. Ecstasy proves there are actually songs under the hazy symphony of noise normally associated with the band.

But what a symphony it is! Yeah, only two of their full-lengths sound like that but, gosh, their similar EP's are so... great! Glider and Tremolo, probably their best EP's, are actually in print but hard to find without Amazon. Their You Made Me Realise EP is also a classic, and the Feed Me With Your Kiss EP is pretty good. But, you know, that's what eBay is for.

They have older material, too, but it's not worth checking out as much. Even so, three albums and four EP's make a pretty decent body of work worth checking out before they unveil what has been 16 years in the making.

But, yeah, that's all well and good. Is it true?

That's debatable. I remember a couple of years ago the Web was alive with news about a forthcoming boxset with all of their releases - LP's, EP's, and singles. Tell me when you've seen it, and it would be greatly appreciated. And, yeah, the band's been under contract to release new material since, well, before Loveless. That means every year I've been paying attention, a rumor has surfaced regarding this supposed masterpiece. And what about the "lost album?" You know, the full-length version of Glider that spawned Loveless! Did that just, uh, disappear?

Kevin Shields has been up to stuff lately. The idea has people's mouths watering, but what he's really been up to is no good. His work with Primal Scream, with the exception of EXTRMNTR, had been garbage. So have his soundtrack contributions.

So the question now is a two-parter... Is MBV setting us up for disappointment with a phantom album? Or are they setting us up for disappointment with a trashy release?

But let's stay optimistic. Their new one is 16 years in the making. It could be something more than worth hearing. And, Shields says, most of it was written and recorded shortly after Loveless... during the band's stride.

I'm crossing my fingers. And listening to their back-catalog.